Minsk Ghetto

This article is about the ghetto in Minsk. For a ghetto in Mińsk Mazowiecki during the German Nazi occupation of Poland, see Mińsk Ghetto.
Map of the Minsk Ghetto
Map of the Minsk Ghetto by professor Barbara Epstein

The Minsk Ghetto was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It was one of the largest in Belorussian SSR, and the largest in the German-occupied territory of the Soviet Union.[1] It housed close to 100,000 Jews, most of whom perished in The Holocaust.


The Soviet census of 1926 showed 53,700 Jews living in Minsk (constituting close to 41% of the city's inhabitants).[2]

The ghetto was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and capture of the city of Minsk, capital of the Belorussian SSR, on 28 June 1941.[2] On the fifth day after the occupation, 2,000 Jewish intelligentsia were massacred by the Germans; from then on, murders of Jews became a common occurrence.[2] About 20,000 Jews were murdered within the first few months of the German occupation, mostly by the Einsatzgruppen squads.[1]

On 17 July 1941 the German occupational authority, the Reichskommissariat Ostland, was created. On 20 July, the Minsk Ghetto was established.[3] A Jewish Council (Judenrat) was established as well.[2] The total population of the ghetto was about 80,000 (over 100,000 according to some sources), of which about 50,000 were pre-war inhabitants, and the remainder (30,000 or more) were refugees and Jews forcibly resettled by the Germans from nearby settlements.[1][2][3]

Bundesarchiv N 1576 Bild-006, Minsk, Juden
Jews in the Minsk Ghetto, 1941

In November 1941 a second ghetto was established in Minsk for Jews deported from the West, known as Ghetto Hamburg, which adjoined the main Minsk ghetto.[2] Above the entrance to this separate ghetto was a sign: Sonderghetto (Special Ghetto). Every night the Gestapo would murder 70–80 of the new arrivals. This ghetto was divided into five sections, according to the places from which the inhabitants came: Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin, the Rhineland, Bremen, and Vienna.[2] Most of the Jews in this ghetto were from Germany and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia; at its height it had about 35,000 residents.[1][1][2][3] Little contact was permitted between the inhabitants of the two ghettos.[1][1][2][3]

The monument to victims of Minsk ghetto at Pritytskogo street, Minsk, Belarus
The monument to victims of Minsk ghetto at Pritytskogo street, Minsk, Belarus
9 may 2010 Minsk 050
The "Pit memorial" with obelisk on the left (obscured) and group sculpture on the staircase on the right.

As in many other ghettos, Jews were forced to work in factories or other German-run operations.[3] Ghetto inhabitants lived in extremely poor conditions, with insufficient stocks of food and medical supplies.[2]

On 2 March 1942, the ghetto's nursery or orphanage was "liquidated"; the children were buried alive in a pit after the murderers had tossed them candy:[4]

At that moment, several SS officers, among them Wilhelm Kube[5], arrived, whereupon Kube, immaculate in his uniform, threw handfuls of sweets to the shrieking children. All the children perished in the sand.[6]

In March 1942, approximately 5,000 Jews were killed nearby where "The Pit" memorial to the Minsk ghetto now stands. On 31 March, the Germans raided the ghetto to arrest Resistance leaders and much of the ghetto, including the synagogue, was burned.[4]

By August fewer than 9,000 Jews were left in the ghetto according to German official documents.[2] The ghetto was liquidated on 21 October 1943,[2] with many Minsk Jews perishing in the Sobibor extermination camp.[3] Several thousand were massacred at Maly Trostenets extermination camp (before the war, Maly Trostenets was a village a few miles to the east of Minsk).[3] By the time the Red Army retook the city on 3 July 1944, there were only a few Jewish survivors.[2]


Mikhail Gebelev, Head of Resistance

The Minsk Ghetto is notable for its large scale resistance organization, which cooperated closely with Soviet partisans. About 10,000 Jews were able to escape the ghetto and join partisan groups in the nearby forests.[1][2][3] Barbara Epstein estimates that perhaps half of them survived, and notes that all together, perhaps as many as 30,000 people tried to escape the Minsk Ghetto to join the partisans (but 20,000 of them could have died along the way).


The story of the Minsk ghetto was not well researched until the late 20th century. Officials of the Belorussia communist party did not organize any evacuation of the town's inhabitants before fleeing the German advance. They later collaborated in creating a false story that such an evacuation did happen. They also tried to discredit the Minsk resistance as having ties with the Nazis. In the United States, research into communist resistance was not a priority during the Cold War, and Jewish historiography did not wish to concentrate on the issue of communist Jewish partisans (see also Red scare).

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia, The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust, Columbia University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-231-11201-7, Google Print, p.205
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Minsk Ghetto Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h MINSK at Holocaust Encyclopedia
  4. ^ a b Harran, Marilyn, ed. (2000). "1942: The "Final Solution"". The Holocaust Chronicle (1st ed.). Publications International. pp. 306, 308, 311. ISBN 978-0785329633.
  5. ^ Kube was executed by partisans 22 September 1943
  6. ^ Gilbert, M: "The Holocaust", page 297. Fontana/Collins, 1987.

Further reading

  • Barbara Epstein, The Minsk Ghetto 1941–1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism, University of California Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-520-24242-5 ([1])
  • Hersh Smolar, The Minsk Ghetto: Soviet-Jewish Partisans Against the Nazis, Holocaust Library, 1989, ISBN 0-89604-068-2

External links

Coordinates: 53°54′35″N 27°32′34″E / 53.9098°N 27.5429°E

Drohobycz Ghetto

Drohobycz Ghetto or Drohobych Ghetto was a Nazi ghetto in the city of Drohobych in Western Ukraine during World War II. The ghetto was liquidated mainly between February and November 1942, when most Jews were deported to the Belzec extermination camp.

Gas van

A gas van or gas wagon (Russian: душегубка (dushegubka); German: Gaswagen) was a vehicle reequipped as a mobile gas chamber. The gas van was invented in the Soviet Union in 1936, by Isay Berg, the head of the administrative and economic department of the NKVD of Moscow Oblast. The vehicle had an air-tight compartment for the intended victims, into which exhaust fumes were transmitted while the engine was running. The victims were gassed with carbon monoxide, resulting in death by carbon monoxide poisoning and suffocation. The gas van was used by the Soviet secret police in the 1930s. During World War II Nazi Germany used gas vans on a large scale as a extermination method to murder inmates of asylums, Romani people, Jews, and prisoners in occupied Poland, Belarus, and Yugoslavia.

Heinz Rosenberg

Heinz Ludwig Rosenberg (15 September 1921 – 13 August 1997), later known as Henry Robertson, was a German-born American author and Holocaust survivor. He survived 11 concentration camps and was one of only seven survivors of the Minsk ghetto. He later recounted his wartime experiences in the book The Years of Horror: An Authentic Report.Rosenberg was born in September 1921 into a Jewish family in Göttingen, where his father owned a linen factory. In 1941 he was deported to Minsk. He was in the Minsk ghetto until 1943, although for some time he was one of the Jews who found themselves under the protection of Military Hospital 4/637, until the hospital was relocated to Crimea. He was then sent to a number of concentration camps, including Treblinka, Plaszow, Wielicza, Flossenbürg, Sachsenhausen and Bergen-Belsen. In 1949 he immigrated to the United States and adopted the name Henry Robertson. His 1985 book The Years of Horror was published under his original name, however. Rosenberg died in New York in August 1997 at the age of 75.

Humbert Achamer-Pifrader

Humbert Achamer-Pifrader (21 November 1900 – 25 April 1945) was an Austrian jurist, who was member of the SS of Nazi Germany. He was commander of Einsatzgruppe A from September 1942 to September 1943.

Jewish partisans

Jewish partisans were fighters in irregular military groups participating in the Jewish resistance movement against Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.

A number of Jewish partisan groups operated across Nazi-occupied Europe, some made up of a few escapees from the Jewish ghettos or concentration camps, while others, such as Bielski partisans, numbered in the hundreds and included women and children. They were most numerous in Eastern Europe, but groups also existed in occupied France and Belgium, where they worked with the local resistance. Many individual Jewish fighters took part in the other partisan movements in other occupied countries. In all, the Jewish partisans numbered between 20,000 and 30,000.


Kalevi-Liiva are sand dunes in Jõelähtme Parish in Harju County, Estonia. The site is located near the Baltic coast, north of the Jägala village and the former Jägala concentration camp. It is best known as the execution site of at least 6,000 Jewish and Roma Holocaust victims.

Korherr Report

The Korherr Report is a 16-page document on the progress of the Holocaust in German-controlled Europe. It was delivered to Heinrich Himmler in January 1943 by the chief inspector of the statistical bureau of the SS and professional statistician Dr Richard Korherr under the title die Endlösung der Judenfrage, in English the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Korherr, commissioned by Himmler calculated that, from 1937 to December 1942, the number of Jews in Europe had fallen by 4 million. Between October 1939 and December 31, 1942 (see, page 9 of the Report), 1.274 million Jews had been "processed" at the camps of General Government and 145,000 at the camps in Warthegau (location of Kulmhof).

The decrease of Soviet Russian Jews from the territories overrun in Operation Barbarossa was not included due to lack of statistical data. The summaries came from the RSHA office receiving all SS reports about the so-called "already evacuated" Jews. Their "special treatment" was removed from the document on the request of Himmler who intended to share it with Hitler, and replaced by Korherr with "processed".

Maly Trostinets extermination camp

Maly Trostinets (Малы Трасцянец, "Little Trostinets") is a village near Minsk in Belarus, formerly the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. During Nazi Germany's occupation of the area during World War II (when the Germans referred to it as Reichskommissariat Ostland), the village became the location of a German camp and extermination site.Throughout 1942, Jews from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were taken by train to Maly Trostinets to be lined up in front of pits and shot. From the summer of 1942, mobile gas vans were also used. According to Yad Vashem, the Jews of Minsk were killed and buried in Maly Trostinets and in another village, Bolshoi Trostinets, between 28 and 31 July 1942 and on 21 October 1943. As the Red Army approached the area in June 1944, the Germans killed most of the prisoners and destroyed the camp.Estimates of how many people died at Maly Trostinets vary. According to Yad Vashem, 65,000 Jews were murdered in one of the nearby pine forests, mostly by shooting. Holocaust historian Stephan Lehnstaedt places the figure higher, writing that at least 106,000 Jews died there. Researchers from the Soviet Union estimated there had been around 200,000 deaths at the camp and nearby execution sites. Lehnstaedt writes that the estimates include the Jews of the Minsk ghetto, who numbered 39,000 to almost 100,000.

Military Hospital 4/637

Military Hospital 4/637 (German: Kriegslazarett 4/637) was a large German military general hospital in Minsk operated by the Army Medical Service from 1941 to 1942 during World War II. The hospital was located in the former House of the Red Army building (now called the Officer's House or Army Palace), a monumental Stalinist building inaugurated in 1936 and designed by Iosif Langbard. The hospital reached a capacity of around 1,000 beds. The hospital mainly treated German soldiers, but also civilians and enemy soldiers to some extent.The hospital employed a number of Jews from the nearby Minsk ghetto as auxiliary workers in a variety of capacities, thereby shielding them from the SS, and on at least one occasion the hospital's physicians risked their lives by allowing Jews to hide from the SS in the hospital. The Holocaust survivor Heinz Rosenberg recounts in his memoirs how he and other Jews were treated with a humanity and kindness which "seemed like a miracle" by the hospital's staff and leadership. This protection of Jews in the Minsk area came to an end when the hospital was ordered to relocate to Crimea.

Minsk Trial

The Minsk Trial was a war crimes trial held in front of a Soviet military tribunal in 1946 in Minsk, the capital of Soviet Belarus. Defendants included German military, police, and SS officials who were responsible for implementing the occupational policies in Belarus during the German–Soviet War of 1941–45.

Mińsk Mazowiecki Ghetto

The Mińsk Mazowiecki Ghetto or the Mińsk Ghetto (Polish: Getto w Mińsku Mazowieckim, Yiddish: נאוואמינסק‎, Novominsk) was a World War II ghetto set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. Some 7,000 Polish Jews were imprisoned there from all neighbouring settlements for the purpose of persecution and exploitation. Two years later, beginning 21 August 1942 during the most deadly phase of the Holocaust in occupied Poland, they were rounded up – men, women and children – and deported to Treblinka extermination camp aboard Holocaust trains. In the process of Ghetto liquidation, some 1,300 Jews were summarily executed by the SS in the streets of Mińsk Mazowiecki.

Rakawskaye pradmyestse

Rakaūskaje pradmiescie (Belarusian: Ракаўскае прадмесце) — the historic district of Minsk (Belarus), located along the ancient road to Rakaū. Here was the Uniate Church, Carmelite monastery and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Orthodox monastery and the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. During the Nazi occupation, part of the district was part of the Minsk ghetto.

To the west of Rakaūskaje pradmiescie is Ramanaūskaja Slabada, in the north - Tatarskaja Slabada (Piatnickaje pradmiescie), in the east - Zamčyšča, in the south - Nizki Rynak.

Simcha Zorin

Shalom (Simcha) Zorin (1902–1974) was a Jewish Soviet partisan commander in Minsk.Many Jewish partisans in Belorussia had their own units that operated as part of the general Soviet partisan movement and the overall Jewish resistance movement fighting the Nazis in occupied Europe, although some of these Jewish units lost their Jewish character over time. The Zorin unit, led by Simcha-Shalom Zorin, included 800 Jews.The Germans invaded Minsk in late June 1941 and transferred the city's Jews, Zorin included, to a ghetto. Zorin worked in a local prisoner of war camp, where he met a captured Soviet officer named Semyon Ganzenko. In late 1941, Zorin and Ganzenko escaped to the forests in the Staroe Selo region, about 19 miles southwest of Minsk. While hiding in the forest, the two established a partisan unit called Parkhomenko. The unit consisted of 150 members, including many Jews. As more and more Jews joined the Parkhomenko unit, many conflicts arose between the Jewish and non-Jewish fighters.

Zorin defended his fellow Jews, leading Ganzenko to recommend that he establish a new Jewish partisan unit to take in Jews who had escaped the ghetto, called "Unit 106" (later the unit was referred to as the "Zorin Unit"). The Zorin Unit began with 60 men and 15 guns, but over time, it grew to 800 people. After the Zorin Unit was attacked by the Belorussian police and the Nazis situated in the Staroe Selo area, it moved its headquarters to the Naliboki Forest. The unit stayed in contact with the Minsk Ghetto through teenagers who helped Jews escaping the ghetto to reach the forest.

Zorin believed that saving Jewish lives was a primary goal along with fighting the enemy, and noncombatants had a place in his camp in providing logistical support. Jewish artisans set up workshops in the forest, assisted by family members. There was a sewing workshop, a shoemaker's workshop, a flour mill, a bakery, a sausage factory, a weapons repair and bomb production shop, and a large hospital with doctors from Minsk. The camp also had a school that served 70 students. The camp members celebrated both Soviet and Jewish holidays.

Zorin had about 100 fighters in his combat unit. Some were members of the Socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair ("The Young Guard") who had escaped the Biała Podlaska ghetto.

In July 1944, Simcha Zorin was wounded in his leg during a battle with a retreating German unit; seven of his men were killed.

In 1971, some 25 years after the war, Simcha Zorin emigrated to Israel.

Special Prosecution Book-Poland

Special Prosecution Book-Poland (German: Sonderfahndungsbuch Polen, Polish: Specjalna księga Polaków ściganych listem gończym) was the proscription list prepared by the Germans immediately before the onset of war, that identified more than 61,000 members of Polish elites: activists, intelligentsia, scholars, actors, former officers, and prominent others, who were to be interned or shot on the spot upon their identification following the invasion.

The Holocaust in Belarus

The Holocaust in Belarus in general terms refers to the Nazi crimes committed during World War II on the territory of Belarus against Jews. The borders of Belarus however, changed dramatically following the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, which has been the source of confusion especially in the Soviet era as far as the scope of the Holocaust in Belarus is concerned.When World War II began, with the September 1, 1939 attack on Poland by Nazi Germany, the sovereign Belarus of today did not exist. The Nazi-Soviet Pact signed in secrecy led to the parallel Soviet invasion of Poland from the east on September 17, 1939. The eastern half of prewar Poland was annexed by the USSR to the two republics of Soviet Belarus and Soviet Ukraine.The entire territory of modern-day Belarus was occupied by Nazi Germany by the end of August 1941. American historian Lucy Dawidowicz, author of The War Against the Jews estimated that 66% of the Jewish people residing in Belarusian SSR died in the Holocaust, out of 375,000 Jews in Belarus prior to World War II according to Soviet data. By comparison, in the Baltics about 90% of Jews were killed in the same period.

The Jewess and the Captain

The Jewess And The Captain is a 1994 documentary, directed by Ulf von Mechow about a Holocaust love affair between Ilse Stein, an eighteen-year-old Jewish girl, and Willi Schultz, the Nazi captain in charge of the Minsk Ghetto.

After the Holocaust, Ilse Stein became a minor celebrity and the subject of two romance novels. The film conducts interviews with Ilse just before her death, reveals shocking archival photographs of her and Schultz, and raids the KGB's secret documents to piece together the facts of their romance and uncover a real-life love story with a bizarre twist.

The Pit (memorial)

The Pit (Belarusian: Яма) is a monument on the corner of Melnikayte and Zaslavskaya streets dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust in Minsk, Belarus. It is on the site where, on March 2, 1942, the Nazi forces shot about 5,000 inhabitants of the nearby Minsk Ghetto.

The obelisk was created in 1947, and in 2000 a bronze sculpture titled "The Last Way" was added. It represents a group of doomed victims descending the steps of the pit. The sculpture was created by the Belarusian artist and Chairman of the Jewish communities of Belarus, Leonid Levin, and the sculptor Elsa Pollak from Israel. On the obelisk is written in Russian and Yiddish, "To the shining memory of the bright days of five thousand Jews who perished at the hands of sworn enemies of humanity, German-fascist butchers, March 2, 1942."

When the reconstruction of the memorial was undertaken, no machinery was used and all work done by hand, a process which took eight years to complete. According to the original plan, the sculptural group was to be more detailed, but it was ultimately left with an expressive aesthetic, devoid of national colors, and includes figures of a violinist, children, and a pregnant woman, representing more collective characters. The memorial has been a target of vandalism. Funeral assemblies are held at the memorial every year on March 2.

Walter Kutschmann

Walter Kutschmann (24 July 1914 – 30 August 1986) was a German SS-Untersturmführer and Gestapo officer, a member of an Einsatzkommando, based first in Lwów, Poland (today Lviv, Ukraine), and later in Drohobycz. He was responsible for the massacre of 1,500 Polish Jews in Lwów, Poland in the years 1941–42.

Wolfgang Birkner

Wolfgang Birkner (27 October 1913 – 24 March 1945) was a German SS functionary with the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer, and the Holocaust perpetrator in World War II. Birkner served as the KdS Warschau (Komandeur der Sicherheitspolizei) in Warsaw following the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

After the German attack on the Soviet forces in eastern Poland during Operation Barbarossa, Birkner and his Einsatzkommando were deployed in the newly-formed Bezirk Bialystok district in the Army Group Centre Rear Area due to reports of alleged Soviet guerrilla activity. Birkner arrived in Białystok from the General Government on 30 June 1941, sent in by the SS Police commander Eberhard Schöngarth on orders from the Reich Main Security Office. As veteran of Einsatzgruppe IV from the Polish Campaign of 1939, Birkner was a specialist in rear security operations.


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